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The BurmaNet News: May 11, 1999

------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
 "Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: May 11, 1999
Issue #1268

Reuters: SE Asia Labour Ministers to Meet in Myanmar 
Guest Commentary: Hearts to Reconcile? 
Asiaweek: Asean, Thailand, and Myanmar 
Bkk Post: Officials Review Transnational Highway 
Indian Express: Leech: Fernandes Said Cool It
Reuters: Belgian Group Seeks Total Boycott 

10 May, 1999 

YANGON, May 10 (Reuters) - Labour ministers from the Association of South
East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will meet in the Myanmar capital of Yangon on
May 14 and 15, the official Myanma News Agency (MNA) said on Sunday. 

The agency said senior government and labour officials from the 10-nation
grouping would also attend the meeting. 

Myanmar's military government is shunned by many Western nations who accuse
the ruling generals of serious violations of human rights, including the
use of forced labour. 

But ASEAN -- grouping Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar,
the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- maintains a strict
policy of non-interference in what it regards as the internal affairs of
its members. 

The Myanmar government denies allegations of human rights abuses and
accuses the opposition, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi,
of spreading lies against it. 

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won the country's last general
election in 1990 by a landslide but the result was never recognised by the

MNA quoted the powerful Secretary One of Myanmar's ruling State Peace and
Development Council, Khin Nyunt, as saying delegates visiting Myanmar would
see the true situation in the country for themselves. 

"External and internal destructive elements who do not want Myanmar's
development are spreading fabricated news about Myanmar by making use of
international news agencies and therefore some countries do not have a
chance to know the true situation in Myanmar," he said. 

Khin Nyunt said Southeast Asian health ministers would also meet in Myanmar
soon. He did not give dates for the meeting. 


9 May, 1999 by Minn Kyaw Minn <enmasse_1@xxxxxxxxxxx> 

[BurmaNet invites readers to submit letters to the editor and guest
commentaries.  Publication of submissions are not guaranteed and may be
edited.  The views of the articles and columns that appear in The BurmaNet
News do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BurmaNet.]

[Regarding the recent news about "renegade MPs" who sent a letter calling
on the NLD to reconsider its call to convene parliament and take a more
conciliatory approach to the ongoing conflict with the SPDC.  See AFP: Suu
Kyi's Party Hits Out at Renegade MPs, The BurmaNet News: May 4, 1999, Issue


Inevitably in politics, we are bound to have some renegades from any party
especially when someone was expelled from his own party before. And it was
regrettable that the other two had to leave the party this way. I believe
that they have put in a lot of hard work for the party and for the
elections, and I still could not believe that they have to come to this.
Breaking away can be very painful but it's a shame really to be used by the
SPDC and to break away if that's what it was.

Though there is no legality of this signed document, what is most
interesting about this whole episode is that it came soon after Foreign
Minister Win Aung reportedly told Reuters that his government would release
NLD political prisoners if the National League for Democracy dissolved the
Committee Representing Peoples' Parliament (CRPP).

Evidently, it shows that both the "Win Aung -Than Tun" episodes were
certainly linked and both of them desperately aimed to weaken the NLD
party's leadership and to push for the dissolution of the CRPP. Clearly,
the single greatest worry of the SPDC has been the "clear mandate" that
people of Burma have given to NLD in the elections on May 27, 1990.

Surely, with most of the elected MPs who signed the documents have
expressed being tricked into signing it and have now retracted, the NLD
party will survive yet another time. They know that CRPP has the mandate of
the elected MPs.

Predictably, as it goes, May to September will be filled with a lot of
activities in Burma. Like it or not, come May 27, SPDC will have to face
another anniversary of the overwhelming victory of the NLD party in the
general elections in the 1990. If no serious efforts for reconciliation is
being made by SPDC and the NLD, the risk of having to pay a high price for
not making it will be very high.

May we all have the hearts to reconcile?

Minn Kyaw Minn 


14 May, 1999 by Suphat Chitranukoh

[BurmaNet Editor: This letter refers to an article that appeared in
Asiaweek that suggested that the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs was
looking at the option of withdrawing its Asean Membership.  See The
BurmaNet News: April 21, 1999, Issue #1255].


While appreciating the network of Asiaweek's intelligence, I wish to offer
my comments to "Stay, or Not to Stay?" [FRONTLINES, April 23].  For decades
now ASEAN has been the cornerstone of Thailand's foreign policy, and it
shall continue to be so in the years ahead.  

A founding father of ASEAN. Thailand takes particular pride in being the
birthplace of the regional grouping; the signing of the Bangkok Declaration
established the association. 

As a longstanding member of ASEAN, Thailand is gratified to have
contributed over the years to the growth of the grouping, and will continue
to play an active role in its development.  

Discussion at higher levels of the Thai Foreign Ministry has never touched
on the ASEAN issue in the same or similar light as reported in Asiaweek.
In fact such an issue has never been broached at any level of discussion at
the Thai Foreign Ministry.

Suphat Chitranukoh, Acting Director-General Department of Information
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bangkok


10 May, 1999 by Supamart Kasem 



Representatives from Thailand, Vietnam, and the Asian Development Bank
visited Mae Sot district over the weekend to consider progress in
developing a transnational highway linking Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma.

The delegation included Warin Wonghanchao, chairman of International
Consultancy Network Go of Thailand, Nguyen Quang Thai of Vietnam's Planning
and Investment Ministry, and Ian Green, a regional planner of the Asian
Development Bank.

Mr Thai said the ADB had lent Hanoi US$963,000 (35 million baht) for a
feasibility study of the project, which would help develop rural areas in
central Vietnam as well as communities along the route.

Construction of the highway, part of the East-West Corridor project, would
include building the second Thai-Laotian bridge across the Mekong River in
Mukdaharn province.

Mr Warin said the highway would eventually link the deep-sea port at
Danang, Vietnam, with another deep-sea port in either Rangoon or Kaleguak
in Burma, via Laos and Thailand.

The route would eventually serve as a short cut for the movement of cargo
by land between East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, eliminating the
necessity of sending it by ship.

"Billions of people will benefit from the East-West Corridor because goods
will be cheaper. The short cut will reduce transportation costs by billions
of baht yearly," Mr Warin said.

In Thailand, the National Economic and Social Development Board plans
four-lane highways from the Thai-Burmese friendship bridge in Mae Sot, to
Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, Petchabun, Khon Kaen and Mukdaharn province.

The Burmese government had made little progress in its study, he said.


10 May, 1999 

OPERATION Leech would have remained pretty much out of public view had it
not been for the war of words between George Fernandes and former Naval
Chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. It was during this exchange of charges and
counter-charges that a note dated July 27, 1998, came to light.

Issued by then Defence Secretary Ajit Kumar -- under instructions from
Fernandes who had taken charge just a few months earlier -- the note asked
all three service chiefs to exercise "utmost restraint" in launching
operations in the Andamans area "in view of the objections likely to be
raised by Myanmar and Thailand."

And that "service HQ is not to act on any intelligence relating to
gun-running and other illegal activities in Andamans seas without the
approval of the Government."

The timing of the note raised several questions. It came after the NUPA had
complained to Fernandes about the plight of its rebels in the Port Blair
prison alleging that they had been assured safe passage and were now being
held as gun-runners.

In a taped interview with The Indian Express, Bhagwat recalled how the
three chiefs protested against the order in a meeting with the Defence
Minister on August 8, 1998. "We told him these are routine and mandated
operations and there will be no prior information or approval ... the same
evening we got another note saying the operations could  be only carried
out in an exclusive economic zone. Basically, the earlier order was
modified in a clever manner to make it appear to be a relaxation without it
being a relaxation and still tying our feet."

However, Fernandes claims that one, the July 27 order was issued on advice
from the Indian Ambassador in Yangon and two, the next operation (Operation
Poorab in which 22 Myanmarese rebels were captured but no FIR was lodged)
was cleared by a Committee of Secretaries. So there was no question of any
let-up in the campaign against gun-running. Operation Poorab was precisely
conducted 30 miles East of the Narcodum Islands. Once the rebels realised
the Indian Navy was tailing them, they sunk their vessels, arms and
allegedly a consignment of narcotics. 22 of them were rescued by divers,
detained in Port Blair for a few days and then released.

After Bhagwat's exit, Fernandes admitted in a TV interview to having
received "inputs" from the Indian Embassy in Yangon and that the July 27
order had been issued by him since he was dealing with the "experience" of
Operation Leech.

And what was this experience? "We got six people killed. Seventy three
persons are today in jail of whom 37 are fisherfolk whose fishing boats
were hijacked and who had nothing to do with any operation at all. We have
not been able to file a charge-sheet more than a year after this particular
incident, the various agencies of the Government, the CBI and a whole lot
of other agencies are involved and concerned..." Fernandes said.

Bhagwat attacked this as a needless obsession with human rights and one
that jeopardised the Navy's operations in tackling militancy. He now says
that even if some inputs had been received from Yangon, the restraint order
was uncalled for. "I am sorry, but our mission in Myanmar cannot control
routine and mandated operations of the armed forces. The Ambassador is not
the supreme commander of the armed forces sitting in Yangon. As far as the
Committee of Secretaries is concerned, no Secretary of Cabinet Secretary
can give orders without the Cabinet Ministers approval ... there is a lot
more to Operation Leech then what meets the eye ... and the George
Fernandes is a the centre of it."

Another aspect of the Operation Leech controversy is the role of then Vice
Admiral Harinder Singh who was the Fortress Commander. Bhagwat cited
Harinder Singh's absence from Port Blair during Operation Leech on February
11, 1998, as an example of his callous approach. Harinder Singh was on
leave since February 2 and claimed -- in a Redressal of Grievance -- that
he had applied for leave much in advance and that the Naval authorities
were informed about the operation only on February 9, just two days before
it occurred. He also said that once he knew the Operation was on, he
"monitored" it closely from New Delhi.

Once Harinder was back in Port Blair, he and Bhagwat began to disagree on
what should be done with the prisoners. Harinder Singh is known to have
advocated immediate release of the fishermen and blamed Bhagwat for
blocking any Army official involved in the operation from giving evidence
to the CBI. However, Bhagwat says he did not allow his officers to give
evidence since he was concerned about their security. "The men involved in
the Operation do not have SPG cover. Their identity has to be protected and
it was my duty to protect them. Since the country does not have maritime
courts and the situation created after Operation Leech was unprecedented,
the recording of evidence in the Port Blair case became a ticklish problem."

"37 declared innocent"

Four days before the deadline of May 11, the Chief Judicial Magistrate of
Port Blair has declared as "innocent" the 37 Thai and Myanmarese fishermen
who have spent the last 15th months behind bars. The May 7 order follows
the CBI's filing of a "final report" in the Operation Leech case, stating
that they now had confirmations from Interpot [sic] and through diplomatic
channels about the nationalities of the 37 men and their nature of work.

The order says that while investigations against the "militants" were
continuing, those against the accused fishermen have been completed. "There
is no charge against them and as such no charge can be leveled against
them," and that they could be immediately released. The order is silent
about what will happen to the remaining 36 "militants" belonging to the
Arakan Army and Karen National Army and CBI sources say their detention
would continue as would the investigations of the Operation Leech case.


10 May, 1999 

BRUSSELS, May 10 (Reuters) - A new Belgian human rights group on Monday
called for a consumer boycott of petrol stations operated by France's Total
and Belgium's PetroFina to pressure the companies to withdraw from Myanmar.

The group, called Petrol or Burma, told a news conference it wanted
companies to withdraw from Myanmar because of alleged human rights
violations by the military government.

Total is the largest shareholder in the Yadana offshore gas field project
with 31 percent. Petrol or Burma said the project represented one-third of
total foreign investment in Myanmar.

The group is targeting PetroFina's Fina stations because it is merging with
Total. PetroFina declined to comment and Total could not be reached for

``We are primarily acting in the interest of democracy in Burma,'' Petrol
or Burma spokesman Gregor Chapelle said.

He said the group was responding to a call in 1996 by opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi not to invest in Myanmar to prevent money going to the
military rulers.

Chapelle said his group had not made similar boycott calls in France
because of legal constraints.

In the United States, human rights activists are suing oil company Unocal,
which holds 28 percent of the Yadana project, over alleged human rights
abuses in Myanmar.

Tyler Giannini, a lawyer for Earthrights International, which is
representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Unocal, said Yadana provided
the Burmese government with annual revenues of between $150 million and
$450 million.

The other participants in Yadana are the Petroleum Authority of Thailand
with about 25 percent and the government-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas
Enterprise, with about 15 percent.